Meet Intel’s Cherryville: 520 Series 240GB SSD Review

by Robert Tanner on February 6, 2012 in Storage

SandForce is back in town and it’s here to stay. Intel’s 520 Series is a full replacement for the 510 Series, but utilize the SF-2281 controller and custom Intel firmware to deliver one of the best SSDs we seen to date. If you already want an Intel SSD but don’t know which to get, we can answer that. Oh, and did we mention the 5 year warranty?

Page 1 – Introduction

There are few upgrades left for PCs that can offer tangible, substantial performance gains in daily usage tasks anymore. Assuming the desktop (or especially laptop) is relatively recent and has 4GB of system memory available, then there just aren’t many options left to make these machines last longer.

Processors have gained significantly in performance since 2005, but now unless your programs can make use of additional cores there really is not a whole lot of benefit to upgrading to a processor with extra cores. A new motherboard might offer additional features or functionality, but given it will use the same (or very similar) underlying chipset performance isn’t going to change.

More system memory is nice, but few programs will max out 4GB, and those users that are the exception to the rule will know it and likely have upgraded already. Graphics is a typical upgrade, but in general it won’t boost application responsiveness and non-game performance.

All that in a nutshell is why SSDs are continuing to be the hot “new” thing for computer upgrades; they have the ability to affect everything in some way, especially system responsiveness in everyday tasks.

Intel 520 240GB Solid-State Drive

I say “new” because Intel began the entire SSD trend in 2008 with its X25-M solid-state drives, with the 80GB introduced at an eye-popping $595. Needless to say, things have changed greatly in just four years. Intel has continued to refine its original controller to the point that it is the only company in the industry to offer a 5 year warranty featured exclusively on its 320 Series drives.

The downside has been that performance was unable to keep pace with the rapid, at times outright doubling of, SSD controller performance that repeatedly took place as startups like Indilinx and later SandForce launched radically new controller designs. To combat this, Intel surprised everyone by adopting a more traditional disk controller Marvell had developed and combined it with its own in-house firmware to arrive at the Intel 510 Series family.

Long backstory short, today Intel is launching the 520 Series SSDs, which will fully replace the 510 Series we just mentioned. The question on everyone’s mind has been what controller will be utilized, and we can finally tell you: it’s SandForce. Intel will be releasing the 520 Series with an SF-2281 controller featuring in-house firmware. Intel made a point to note that it had spent almost a full year developing this firmware. This is doubtlessly partly why the 520 Series will also receive a full 5 year warranty, as compared to the 3 years on the outgoing 510 Series. Intel is clearly confident in these new SSDs.

Intel 520 240GB Solid-State Drive

As expected for any second generation SandForce controller, the 520 Series will feature a SATA III 6Gb/s interface, and will utilize Intel’s own 25nm Compute-Quality MLC NAND. As with other SandForce controllers the 520 will include built-in AES256 data encryption, which is the highest rating of any Intel drive to date.

The 520 will ship in capacities ranging from 60-480GB. Best case sequential performance is listed at 550MB/s reads and 520MB/s writes, with out-of-the-box 4K write IOPS listed at 80,000 IOPS. Intel does also specify that 60,000 IOPS is the maximum rating once the SSD has been written to once in its entirety, which is one by-product of SSDs. While 240GB drives have typically held the sweet-spot in terms of performance for any model family, for the 520 Series the unusual 180GB capacity drive is where the performance gains from additional capacity will level off.

Intel 520 Series Solid-State Drives
Street Price
Sequential Read
Sequential Write
Random 4K Read IOPS
Random 4K Write IOPS
Max 4K Write IOPS
SATA 6Gb/s
5 Years

The retail kit will include the usual screws, 3.5″ drive bracket adapter, SATA power and data cables, software mini-disc with cloning software, and a case sticker. All users will also have access to Intel’s Toolbox, SSD Optimizer, and Migration (cloning) software packages for drive monitoring or firmware updating. Current firmware as tested is 400i.

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